Stephen M. Taylor

August 24, 2013|By JANET HEIM |
  • Steve and Susan Taylor enjoyed traveling together, and are seen in this picture taken in Jamaica in July 2012.
Submitted photo

Stephen “Steve” Taylor’s passport was filled with customs stamps from his many travels, whether to third-world countries for mission trips or to Jamaica to relax with his wife.

Travel, ministry and education were hallmarks of a life that had an impact on many near and far.

“He lived hard, he played hard, he prayed hard,” said Susan Taylor, his wife of 21 years.

Born and raised in Hagerstown, Steve was the only child of James “Jim” and Susan “Sue” Taylor. Jim has been tuning and rebuilding pianos for more than 50 years, and Sue is a nurse.

When Steve was 3, Sue noticed a lump on his outer cheek in front of his ear when he was sitting on her lap.

Steve was the ninth child in the United States to be diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-muscle cancer, Sue said. She said the doctors had no protocol for treating the disease, and typed Steve’s information into a computer in Texas to figure out how to treat it.

For six weeks, they traveled daily to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where Steve had chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Then, the treatments tapered off to weekly, monthly, then quarterly for five years, with a lot of testing.

Sue said this type of cancer had a very high mortality rate.

“We were, quite honestly, not expecting a good outcome,” Sue said.

But Steve was considered cured at age 8.

“I think we took his childhood. He was very adult at a young age,” Sue said. “He was always his own thinker, always thinking outside the box.”

Steve attended Heritage Academy for pre-kindergarten and elementary school, then went to E. Russell Hicks Middle School, and South Hagerstown High School for two years. At South, he played trumpet in the marching band, including the year the band won the state championships, Jim said.

Lifelong members of churches in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren tradition, Jim was licensed and ordained in the denomination and took a four-year pastorate in Lakeland, Fla., from 1988 to 1992.

Steve was given a choice of attending high school at a public or Christian high school, and after touring both schools, chose Lakeland Christian School, from which he graduated from in 1990.

The family did a lot of traveling when Steve was a child, Sue said, but his first trip out of the United States was a high school senior class mission trip to Jamaica in the spring before graduation.

There would be other mission trips to Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, France, Thailand, the Philippines and Africa.

“He had a gift of being able to relate to all different cultures and ethnicities,” Sue said. “He was passionate about helping people.”

Jim said Steve would be “gearing up for another one” if he were alive, taking one to two mission trips a year. Susan went with Steve on several mission trips, but usually was “the one keeping home running,” which included taking care of their cats.

Another turning point was the summer of 1989, when Steve participated in Operation Barnabas, a summer youth ministry hands-on training experience through their denomination.

It was there that Steve met Susan Hively of York, Pa., who was on his ministry team. Steve returned to Florida, and after graduating from high school, attended Polk Community College and lived at home.

Wanting to be closer to Susan, though, he transferred to Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., about an hour from where Susan lived.

Steve would spend weekends at her family’s home, with her mother doing his laundry, feeding him and taking care of him, Jim said.

“Susan’s parents loved him as much as we did,” Jim said.

The relationship grew quickly, and before long, the couple was planning a wedding. Susan wanted to get married at Christmas 1992, but Susan’s mother said there was no way she was planning a wedding for that time of year and suggested June.

Susan said she jumped at the idea of getting married six months earlier.

“We just knew,” she said.

Steve transferred to Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., and the newlyweds moved there in time for Steve to start his junior year of college. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries in 1994, then a master’s degree in specialized ministries in youth and family counseling from Grace Theological Seminary two years later.

It was the professor of a weeklong class on church history at the end of seminary who led Steve to Ghent Grace Brethren Church in Roanoke, Va., where he worked as a youth pastor, then as senior pastor.

“His gifts and job fell together,” Susan said. “It was a divine appointment. It was God’s direction. It wasn’t by circumstance or happenstance.”

Steve also served on a refugee resettlement board. Sue said while visiting in Roanoke, they got to see Steve help several refugee families find housing and get settled.

“It was neat to see how he could reach out and help out. He could pick up the language,” said Sue, admitting she didn’t have the same gift.

The couple began traveling after Steve got his first “real” job out of college.

Steve earned his master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia while working at the church. One of the graduation requirements was that he work in the school system, an experience he relished.

“He kind of fell into his skill set,” Susan said.

With Susan’s father in ill health, the couple decided to move closer to their parents. In 2005, Steve was hired as vice principal at Heritage Academy, where he worked for two years. Susan got a job with Hospice of Washington County, where she works in human resources.

While at Heritage, Steve took students on two mission trips to Mexico City. In July 2007, Steve put his gifts to work at Hospice of Washington County as a full-time chaplain, then as coordinator and director to a department that now has six chaplains, Susan said.

She said Steve kept a journal of his patient experiences because he was so touched by how different families handled death. Had he lived long enough, Steve planned to publish a book of the stories, changing the names for privacy.

In 2009, Steve made his first trip to Mombasa, Kenya, where he helped Hospice of Washington County establish a sister hospice with Coast Hospice.

It was after that trip that Steve was clearly ill. After waiting a few months to see if he had picked up a tropical bug, his mother urged him to see a doctor.

That’s when Steve was diagnosed with colon cancer. The disease had spread to his liver, but chemotherapy treatments gave him four more years of life, Sue said.

In those four years, Steve went on two more trips to Africa and traveled to Jamaica frequently with Susan. He often was called Jesus in Jamaica because of the striking resemblance.

Steve also earned two doctorates, the last one on his 41st birthday in June, but he was not well enough to attend the ceremony.

In September 2012, when the treatments stopped working, Steve said he had had enough and enrolled himself in hospice. He died at home with his wife and mother giving him “24/7 round-the-clock care” since the beginning of August, Jim said.

Susan described her husband as a “perpetual student,” and said he liked sharing what he learned.

“He soaked up knowledge like a sponge,” she said. “He was almost never idle. He slept very little. His mind was always racing, trying to get different interpretations on Scripture or problem solving.”

Steve’s illness gave him more material, and she said he spoke at different churches in the area about ministering to the dying, taped portions of which will be played at his celebration of life service.

“Heaven will be populated because of his rapport with people, his approachability,” Susan said. “He was nonjudgmental.”

The Taylors were members of Valley Grace Brethren Church, where Steve was a beloved youth Sunday school teacher.

“He was a great encourager of kids,” Jim said. “He’s leaving behind a great, great legacy.”

“As long as he had breath, he was going to be a light for Christ,” Susan said. “That’s certainly how we, as a family, have dealt with the inevitable. We know where he is and that we’ll see him again. He was an amazing man.”

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Stephen M. Taylor, who died Aug. 14 at the age of 41. His obituary was published in the Aug. 19 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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